College Feed

Acupuncture Today
January, 2011, Vol. 12, Issue 01
Share |

When Less Is More: Treating the Sensitive Patient

By Felice Dunas, PhD

Physiological and emotional sensitivity causes and/or stems from an energetic condition. We are well positioned to have a strong positive influence on patients dealing with it.

I was on a flight home after having given a lecture in Toronto when I met Suzanne. Dressed for business, dynamic and obviously accomplished, she worked on the phone until the very last minute before departure. As soon as the plane took off she was writing away on a legal pad. She cracked open her laptop as soon as we were at cruising altitude. There was toughness to Suzanne's demeanor, the kind of thick skin that many successful, professional women develop. Eventually she took a break and we began to chat.

I told her of my professional background and she was eager to tell me about her experience with acupuncture. She had been referred to someone several friends had used for discomfort with menopausal symptoms. Suzanne was going through similar challenges. Her sex drive had changed, she had hot flashes, was easily thrown into an irritable state of mind, and had mild discomfort with intercourse because of changes in her vaginal tissue. She had gone to an experienced practitioner who focused on women's health and she enjoyed the process but she felt terrible afterward. There must be something abnormal about her, she thought, because so many of her friends felt better after seeing the same person. It had taken her years to get the courage to try it and she felt genuinely let down and confused. She went three times, had the same relaxing experience followed by negative after-effects and then quit.

"When you take medications, generally, do you notice that you feel better with smaller dosages?" I asked after listening to her story. Even though the question is too general to be diagnostic on its own, the answer was important. "I have to be very careful," she replied frankly. Suzanne can get really sick if she takes full doses of pharmaceuticals for an extended period of time but does OK on things that only require one or two doses, like Valtrex for herpes. When taking something every day for a while, the medication has the potential to make her feel sick over time, no matter what it's for. She and her doctors have learned that she needs small dosages of long-term medications.

"How is your digestion? Do you ever get bloated or heartburn? Do you get the runs if you eat too quickly or lean towards constipation? I'm being general but if your gut ever bothers you in any way it would be helpful for me in guestimating why the acupuncture after-affects didn't feel good to you, " I told her. "I feel fine but my tummy gets bloated. No matter what I eat, I puff up. And I eat much too fast because I am so busy" she confessed candidly.

Slow Metabolic Breakdown and Detoxification

Suzanne likely had a slow metabolism. If her liver broke compounds down more slowly her blood levels of those compounds would remain relatively high. Substances would need to make multiple passes through her liver to be sufficiently broken into simpler compounds. As a result, less would be more for her. A mild dose of any substance, from food additives to medications would become stronger because they would remain in her bloodstream longer. Essentially, it would take Suzanne's liver longer to break down substances and to detoxify her bloodstream.

People with low metabolisms tend to be "sensitive" patients. They don't "digest" food or the events of life as quickly, hence my question about her digestive abilities. Like complex molecules, experiences stay with them longer, circulating more times through their (energetic and physiological) systems before being de-constructed. They are easily affected by what goes on in their world and tend to be empathetic, feeling compelled to reach out to and then retreat from the world around them. Many feel porous and compensate by becoming tough, as Suzanne did. She ignored her sensitivity by working harder, and staying goal-oriented.

"My husband complains that I work too much and then crash," she admitted. "But if I am not engrossed in my work I am just not comfortable. I feel overly stimulated." Structure and plowing through life, head down, were easier for her than feeling as deeply as was her natural inclination.

I felt comfortable suggesting that the acupuncture treatments may have been too strong for Suzanne. Though her pulses were "vital enough" to receive the work, being "sensitive" meant that a much lighter treatment would have been "digested" better. Her body had been given more information, too many instructions by the needles, than it could work with, even though her chi was strong. If the liver doesn't break substances down quickly, from the physiological perspective, it doesn't break experiences, emotions or instructions from needles down quickly from the energetic perspective.

Just as Suzanne reported feeling noticeably better a few weeks after those three treatments were over, a sensitive person can feel the negative effect and then begin to feel better, even substantially improved, a few days to a few weeks after acupuncture is administered. This is common. Once a body has digested the work, it can benefit from it. But there

Responding to Sensitivity

People respond differently to sensitivity. Some use it to their advantage, as the nourishment for their creativity. Others feel plagued by it.

They may live on emotional roller coasters, barely getting over one affected reaction before encountering another. This can support artistic expression and human intimacy or it can be over stimulating. Sensitive people may become self-protective, reclusive or routine based. On the positive side, they gain pleasure from the small blessings of life, tend to be intuitive and enjoy helping others.

Some sensitive types disguise their innate natures by toughening up, as Suzanne did, going so far as to build their entire life structures around avoiding their empathetic natures. They marry people who don't "go deep" choose careers that keep them very busy and may build lives in opposition to what they really need. It's an expensive use of chi, all this compensatory activity. But if you grow up feeling deeply in an environment that doesn't understand or discourages it, what is a child to do? Just suffer alone? Yes, often that is the case.

Having worked with many elite level amateur and pro athletes, I can tell you that some of them compensate for their sensitivity by building muscles. The "shield" built by the musculature can easily mislead practitioners as to the weakness and porous nature in some patients' energetic profiles and personalities.

Its easy, as a practitioner, to miss how physiologically and energetically sensitive someone may be especially if they show a strong demeanor or pulse/tongue picture. Many sensitive types do present this way.

Changes In Sensitivity

Sometimes people become sensitive as the result of an event or trauma. Bob was born with a genetic defect and had known for years that open-heart surgery would eventually be necessary. Months prior to surgery he had begun incorporating acupuncture and herbs with a seasoned practitioner, had gone through dietary detoxification and had reworked his schedule to give himself sufficient recovery time without pressure. Sherry, his acupuncturist, arrived at his home two weeks after he returned from the hospital to give him his first post-surgery treatment. She was careful not to overstimulate him. Unfortunately, the condition of his chi had changed more dramatically than would be expected after the surgery, and his entire personality would, over time, reflect that. The treatment was much too strong and he felt more pain and fatigue for weeks.

Because he and I had been friends for a long time, he listened to my explanation as to why things had gone as they had. He allowed me to treat him a month later and, by working with his surgical after-effects and his newly developed sensitivity, I was able to help him improve quickly.

When I explained to Suzanne why the acupuncture may not have given her the results she wanted, the firmness in her demeanor began to soften and her expression turned to one of relief. Sensitivity was a concept she had never heard of before and she was grateful to learn that she might not be "abnormal," as she had always felt herself to be. During the course of our conversation she began seeing how she had built her life infrastructure to avoid feeling her sensitivity.

"The acupuncture can be very helpful for you if less work is done each time." I said. "If you try acupuncture again ask for "half or mild" treatments. And in your approach to life, recognize that you feel things very deeply and that this can be OK. You don't need to build a fortress of activity into your day to fend off feelings what is true for you."

I received an e-mail from Suzanne last week, which is why I was inspired to write this piece for you. Her husband had asked her to thank me. "I'm chewing my food 10 times per bite as you suggested," she wrote. "I'm relaxing more and my half-treatments are helping me feel so much better."

Ahh, how blessed are we to have positive impact. One of the great gifts of our work is that we can change lives by sharing what we know, even in unplanned circumstances. Taking the time to learn more about "sensitive people" can increase the blessings you bring to those who cross your path. It may even help you better understand yourself.

My dear friend, Judith Orloff, just released a wonderful book on this subject entitled "Emotional Freedom." Many of my sensitive patients have benefitted by it. Perhaps it will serve you and yours as well.

Click here for more information about Felice Dunas, PhD.


Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreement
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.
comments powered by Disqus
Get the Latest News FASTER - View Digital Editions Now!
To suggest a poll question
please email

AT News Update
e-mail newsletter Subscribe Today

AT Deals & Events
e-mail newsletter Subscribe Today